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The new government roadmap for mining: a lot of work for Spain to do

| News | Energy

Carlos Mínguez analyzes the Spanish regulatory framework for the use of these resources

Mining is back in the limelight. And, for the first time in a long time, its presence is not due to the public criticism it has received for its negative environmental externalities, to the contempt it has endured as an activity qualified as typical of underdeveloped economies or to its condition as a target for conservationist movements, due to its supposedly predatory nature of the environment.

Last September the European Commission presented its Action Plan on Key Raw Materials. At the presentation of the Plan, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, stated that "certain raw materials are essential for Europe to lead the economic and digital transition. We cannot afford to be completely dependent on third countries and even on one country".

The European Union imports from third party countries between 75% and 100% of most of the key metals and raw materials required for its economic activity, and many of the minerals used in the new technology and renewable energy sectors.

The Action Plan is part of the reconstruction project approved due to COVID-19 and in view of the crisis which is stifling the Union's economy. The pandemic has highlighted the risks associated with the disruption of international supply chains. To address these risks, the Commission intends to promote a recovery plan that will increase resilience and ensure strategic autonomy, as part of the transition to a green and digital economy.

The objectives of developing mining at EU level are one of the priority objectives of the Action Plan, which should be operational by 2025. To this end, both EU bodies and Member States should speed up their action programmes and the updating of standards and governance in the sector.

In response to this challenge, the government has just launched the consultation process prior to the start of work on the drafting of the roadmap for the sustainable management of mineral raw materials. With this publication, the government is placing, for the first time in a long time at national level, the debate on the future of mining on a constructive and proactive basis, and the mining sector at the forefront of the digital and energy transformation that our country demands.

Spain is not in a good starting position. The regulatory framework for the use of minerals is markedly deficient, bordering on the inoperative. With few exceptions, mining has been regulated in Spain in a negative way during the last decades. The regulatory deficit is sometimes an insurmountable obstacle to the implementation of projects. Our legal framework is characterised by the accumulation of rules and competences that fall disproportionately on projects that have to deal with different criteria and indefinite management times, before different bodies of different public administrations.

If referring to the lack of updating of the current Mining Law is little less than a classic cliché in the sector, the same can be said of the national list of strategic raw materials, whose last reference dates from 2002, and whose limited scope, for tax purposes alone, prevents the full potential of such a declaration from being extracted.

Resilience, non-dependence, guarantee of supply, employment in the deployment of new technologies, use in the manufacture of equipment components for renewable energies or the new sustainable mobility are, among others, very new concepts that find their basis in a traditional sector, such as the mining sector, committed and capable today, technologically, of guaranteeing the sustainable use of our natural resources.

The stakes are high. The success of the EU in the process of transformation and modernisation of its economy depends on its success in securing in a sustainable way the primary and secondary raw materials it needs to expand the use of clean and digital technologies in all industrial ecosystems of the EU.

The Commission's Communication concludes as mentioned in the previous paragraph; i.e. with a warning, launched at a historic moment of technological change and the implementation of a new energy model, about the importance that the correct definition of the legal, financial and operational framework in which mining should develop in the coming years will have in the effective definition of public policies and successful business decisions in our industrial sector.

The challenge undertaken by the government must therefore be ambitious and far-reaching. Let us hope that the new lexicon that is flooding community papers these days also permeates this roadmap of "Tractor Macroprojects", "Governance and Regulatory Improvement" or "New Mining Valleys"; and that mining, once again, becomes, as it was in previous economic transformations, a protagonist in the new digital and energy revolution.

And this should be the case because, as I always heard my friend Arturo, an old Asturian mining engineer, say: "Everything is mining. Behind things, everything is mining".

You can see the article in Cinco Días or download it here

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